1. Four Seasons of Kyoto: A Guide to Embrace Kyoto’s Seasonal Enjoyments

Four Seasons of Kyoto: A Guide to Embrace Kyoto’s Seasonal Enjoyments

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Yuko Kuriyama

Being a native Kyotoite is not easy; can't get anywhere without weaving through the World Heritage sites, expected to talk like a maiko, and too many old and new restaurants to choose from...and I am loving it! Happy to show you the city I live and love.


Seasonal Must-See Sites, Things To Do, and A Smart Way to Get Around


As of 2017, Kyoto boasts 17 World Heritage Sites and many other world-famous attractions. One of the World Heritage Sites, Kinkakuji Temple known as “Golden Pavilion” is sure to dazzle you, walking through 10,000 vermilion Torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is simply spectacular, and Nijo-Jo Castle, another World Heritage Site where profound change in Japan’s history called Taiseihoukan, meaning the end of Edo period, occurred 150 years ago. Kyoto is busy with tourists year-round, and if you know how to take advantage of four seasons in Kyoto, your trip will be much more enjoyable. Each season has different characteristics: mesmerizing cherry blossoms in the spring, open-air Kawadoko restaurants over the river in the summer, historical architectures look even more dramatic with flaming colors of foliage in the fall, and if it snows, sense of serenity and hot springs ease your mind and body in the winter.


Kinkakuji Temple

Photo from 三条かっぱのきまぐれブログ


■ Spring: Picnic at Riverside with the View of Cherry Blossoms



Sakura, or the cherry tree is regarded as the national flower that symbolizes Japan. People from across the country, as well as visitors from all over the world, come to Kyoto for this short-lived beauty. In addition to regular opening hours, many of the famous places extend its opening hours for nighttime viewing. Consequently, popular cherry blossom viewing spots such as Nijyo-Jo Castle, Kiyomizu-Dera temple, Gion quarter and other major temples and shrines are crazy crowded and traffic gets stuck all over Kyoto. So, how would you like to avoid all the fuss and enjoy cherry blossoms in peace?

Here is my suggestion: a picnic at the riverbank of northern Kamo River.


Kamo River

Photo from Kyoto Moyou


Kamo River runs north and south in Kyoto starting around Kamigamo-Jinja Shrine, another World Heritage Site, located up north and goes through the center of the city. Countless large cherry trees can be viewed along the river and when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the sight becomes magical you just have to be there to see it!


| How to Picnic

If you take the city subway Karasuma Line to Kitaoji Station (approx. 15 minutes from Kyoto Station) and walk for a few minutes on Kitaoji street toward Kitaojibashi bridge which is crossed over Kamo River. Just before the bridge, there is a restaurant called HASEGAWA.



Plastic food replicas are displayed in place of menu list


Their signature burger steak is a must-try! Buy a delicious made-to-order bento lunch box sold at the storefront and then off to the river! Just in case benches are all taken, bring something to spread on the grass might be helpful.


Burger Steak Bento ¥1100 + tax


Imagine for a minute being at the river with a fantastic view of cherry blossoms all around you, feeling the breeze, tasting delicious bento in a peaceful atmosphere…it will be so relaxing. After lunch, take a nice stroll along the riverbank to the central city area or head north to Kamigamo-Jinja Shrine, or visit Kyoto Prefectural Botanical Garden where a grove of over 200 cherry trees can be viewed. By the way, there is a Starbucks on the ground level of Kitaoji Station, maybe it’s a good idea to grab your favorite drink there before heading to the river. Yes, you can buy your food and drink at a convenience store or supermarket for a several hundred yen cheaper. However, a bento from a highly-reputed local restaurant and a favorite latte will perhaps be a better and satisfying choice.






■ Summer: Kawadoko Restaurants in Kibune and Takao Area


Kyoto is notorious for being hot and humid in the summer. It often gets 36°C or 96F you need a towel and a folding fan to go anywhere. Between May and September, restaurants in Kyoto that are situated along the riverside extend its floor over the water and set tables to open summertime special Kawadoko/Yuka area of the restaurant. It’s called in different names according to the area in which the restaurant is located; it’s Kawadoko in the northern area and Yuka in the central area.

Kibune in north and Takao in the northeast are areas that are away from city central. It is less busy, much cooler (5°C-10°C or 25F-50F lower in temperature) and surrounded by rich nature.Tasting authentic Kyoto cuisine at Kawadoko will be sure to remain in your memory for a long time.


Kawadoko in Kibune

Photo from Gaijinpot


Photo from MATCHA


There are over ten Kawadoko restaurants in Kibune. Change into Yukata (summer kimono) you can take home and enjoy a meal like locals with the Yukata Plans at KibunesouUgenta offers stylish contemporary Japanese design accommodation.



Momijiya in Takao offers a special plan that includes Maiko (an apprentice geisha) appearance. She will come to each table for a chat and photo while you enjoy delicious Kyoto cuisine/Sukiyaki/Shabu Shabu.




Maiko Experience in Kyoto: 5 Places to Encouter Maiko and Geiko





■ Fall: Fall Foliage and Open-Air Onsen Hot Spring


Another busy time in Kyoto next to cherry blossom season is fall. Kyoto becomes very crowded with tourists from all over the world between October and November. Major sites have both cherry trees and maple trees so there is no ending of visitors. And of course, they are open for nighttime viewing in the fall as well. It is so beautiful to see historical architectures in a backdrop of fiery red, golden yellow and bright orange. It is an unforgettable sight. Tofuku-Ji Temple, Kiyomizu-Dera Temple, and Koudai-Ji Temple are ranked top-tier of visitor’s must-visit list among many other popular sites.


Tofukuji Temple

Photo from Photohito


If you find yourself in Kurama area in the fall foliage season, why not try an open-air Onsen hot spring at Kurama Onsen? This rustic hot spring is located within walking distance (15 minutes) from Kurama-Dera Temple. No reservation required and towels are available for rent. A free shuttle is available between Eizan Train Kurama Station and Kurama Onsen (3 minutes ride. Shuttle schedule is in accordance with the train timetable. No reservation required). Soak in a relaxing open-air hot tub in the middle of the mountain does not happen every day, so take it all off and enjoy the experience!


Kurama Onsen

Photo from tamanegirunner





■ Winter: Snow-Covered Temples and Shrines + Super Sento Public Baths


Kyoto is bone-chilling cold in the winter (average of 4°C-5°C or 39F-41F) however it doesn’t snow very often but when it does, it tends to snow a lot. If you are in Kyoto and happens to be at (or near) Kinkaku-Ji Temple when the snow begins to fall, you’re in luck because that’s the moment every photographer and the media, as well as the tourists, are waiting for and they scramble to get the best view of the dreamy look of the snow-covered golden pavilion. If you are not lucky enough though, there still be plenty more beautiful historical sites in Kyoto and any of them look magical when viewed in the snow.


Ninja-ji Temple


Another nice thing to do when it snows is to hit the “Super Sento” public bath. Difference between regular public baths and Super-Sento is that the latter is larger and has more elaborate facilities such as salt sauna or bedrock baths (facilities vary at different establishments). What’s great about the Super Sento/regular public baths is that there are more than a few in the convenient city area and no reservation is necessary, you can decide to have a go on the spot. Towels are available for rent as well as other basic amenities such as blow-dryers. Try the one with an open-air hot tub such as Hanano-Yu , Fufuno-Yu , and Chikarano-Yu. It will be a great cultural experience and much more than a nice warm bath in a cold winter day in Kyoto.

(If you’re not familiar with the public baths in Japan, please refer to OnsenJapan.net for manners and rules.)





■ Quick Tips on How To Get Around Smart in Kyoto


Kyoto is full of tourists year-round and traffic backups happen frequently near popular sites and the traffic jam gets worse in the spring and fall. My advice is to avoid using buses to major sites. In addition to getting stuck in traffic causing delays in your plans for the day, it’s VERY crowded inside the bus and guaranteed stressful and uncomfortable not to mention it’s a waste of your limited time in Kyoto. Solution: use TRAINS instead to travel to popular spots.  Keihan Train covers major sites such as Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, Tofuku-Ji Temple, Yasaka-Jinja Shrine, Kiyomizu-Dera Temple, and Shimogamo-Jinja Shrine. Keihan offers value one-day/two-day passes starting from ¥500. Offers subject to change, so check the official website often to snag a good one for your travel in Kyoto.




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Yuko Kuriyama
Yuko Kuriyama
Being a native Kyotoite is not easy; can't get anywhere without weaving through the World Heritage sites, expected to talk like a maiko, and too many old and new restaurants to choose from...and I am loving it! Happy to show you the city I live and love.